In tribute to John Berger, who died on 2 January 2017, we excerpt ‘The Moment of Cubism’ from Landscapes, edited by Tom Overton. The 1967 essay of materialist art criticism, originally published in New Left Review, traces the lineages and legacies of Cubism. In it, Berger grapples with the sensation that “the most extreme Cubist works” – both “too optimistic and too revolutionary … to have been painted today” – are “caught, pinned down, in an enclave of time, waiting to be released and to continue a journey that began in 1907.”
An interlocking world system of imperialism; opposed to it, a socialist international; the founding of modern physics, physiology and sociology; the increasing use of electricity, the invention of radio and the cinema; the beginnings of mass production; the publishing of mass-circulation newspapers; the new structural possibilities offered by the availability of steel and aluminium; the rapid development of chemical industries and the production of synthetic materials; the appearance of the motor-car and the aeroplane: What did all this mean?
Andy Merrifield pays tribute to John Berger, who passed away aged 90 on 2 January 2017.
John died yesterday. I’ll remember his voice, his laugh, his charm and generosity. His words. Stripped-down words, mystical and carefully chosen words, earthy words, fierce words. They’ll always grab us, make us think, feel and act, piss people off. To weep for John is to weep on the shoulder of life. Remember him, gazing up at Aesop, in front of Velázquez’s great canvas?
He’s intimidating, he has a kind of arrogance. A pause for thought. No, he’s not arrogant. But he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The presence of Aesop refers to nothing except what he has felt and seen. Refers to no possessions, to no institutions, to no authority or protection. If you weep on his shoulder, you’ll weep on the shoulder of his life. If you caress his body, it will recall the tenderness it knew in childhood.
John didn’t suffer fools gladly, either.